To some, one of the best parts of Sprint Car racing is the noise; the loud rumble of a 900 horsepower engine as it soars down the straightaways.
None of that matters to Shoemakersville, PA’s Brett Wanner.
Wanner was born deaf; both parents, also deaf.
But Wanner’s father, Dale, setthe tone early in Brett’s life that he could do anything he wanted to do and that his lack of hearing was NOT a disability.
During the mid to late 1980’s, Dale Wanner was a regular at Selinsgrove Speedway. The elder Wanner ran his 377 cubic inch engine against the 410 Sprint Cars.
Watching what his father was capable of is how the younger Wanner realized his passion for racing.
At the age of 14, Wanner got behind the wheel of a 250cc Sportsman Micro Sprint Car and fell in love. Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway (also known as Lanco Speedway) in Newmanstown, PA became his home away from home.
Wanner ran his Sportsman Micro for about six years and was able to pick up two feature event wins.
When Wanner was ready for more speed, he looked to the American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) Midgets.
For the next four years, Wanner enjoyed traveling and venturing to new tracks with ARDC and captured two more feature wins; one at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey and one at Winchester Speedway in Virginia
The 2017 season saw Wanner make the transition to a 358 Sprint Car. In just his first year in a 358, Wanner picked up a season-best third place feature finish at Williams Grove Speedway, finished fifth in the point standings there, and was also
awarded Williams Grove 358 Rookie of the Year.
So far, 2018 is also looking good for the 28-year-old racer, having already matched last year’s third place finish two weeks ago at Williams Grove.
For most race car drivers, sight, feeling, and hearing are all very important. The more information they can gather from those senses, the better decisions they are able to make with regard to how their motor is running, how close other drivers are on the track, etc.
For Wanner, the hearing aspect is not an option.
Recent studies show that people who are born deaf use areas of the brain that are typically devoted to processing sound to instead process touch and vision. This means the brain can do more with the information that it is able to receive from the other senses.
Wanner whole-heartedly agrees with that.
“These cars have no mirrors. I really have to rely on feeling and the vibrations of the car. I also have something of a ‘sixth sense’, like a gut feeling when it comes to racing.”
Wanner continued, “My whole crew is deaf as well. Since we cannot hear what is going on with the track, the motor, or the car, we rely on other senses. I am very sensitive to vibrations. I can almost ‘feel a sound’ because of its vibrations. Hearing people don’t usually experience that.”
“My kinesthetic sense is very heightened. Sound doesn’t always let you know what is going on. You can often learn more about what’s wrong with your car through feeling. I don’t get distracted by the sounds.”
Wanner also notes that his visual sense is typically on overdrive as well.
“I have very good vision. I can see everything. My peripheral vision is especially sharp. My
eyes are my ears.”
Wanner does admit that sometimes there might be something he and his crew miss since they are all deaf. But luckily Wanner has help from a veteran 410 Sprint Car driver for those occasions.
“Steve Buckwalter has become like family to us. If I feel something funny with the car, Steve might be able to hear something and usually knows what to do to fix the issue.”
Racing is unpredictable. Things on the track can change in a split second. Wanner is aware of this but has a way of trying to minimize that unpredictability for himself.
“I try to get a sense of each driver’s racing style; the lines they typically run on the track. I try to be respectful as I see a driver get near me and usually try to let them race their line.”
So what does the rest of the 2018 racing season have in store for Wanner and his No. 54 machine?
“We will be racing all the 358 shows at the Grove, following all of Kevin Nouse’s Summer Series races, occasionally going to Lincoln and BAPS Speedways, and will be running with URC (United Racing Club) at Port Royal Speedway.”
Wanner would like to recognize one of his greatest contributors and supporters, Gunderson Racing Incorporated (GRI). GRI is located in Harrisburg, South Dakota and sells new and used Sprint Car parts.
Greg Gunderson, owner of GRI, spent 30 years behind the wheel of a race car and picked up an impressive 119 feature wins in 41 different race cars, including Sprints. Greg Gunderson was also born deaf.
“He has played a huge role on our team for the last three years. He really believes in me and knows that I can be successful. I really have to thank him for all of his support,” said Wanner.
Wanner would also like to thank his other sponsors and his crew members, as he realizes he would not be where he is today without their support: Andy’s Barbershop, Fisher Lawn Care, VP Machine, Dale Wanner, Jeffrey Fetterolf, Richard Fisher, Thomas Martin, Jr., and Jon Winkelspecht.
“I also have to thank my biggest fans; my sister, Marilyn Wanner, my nephew, Dalton Martin, and Jakob Martin.”
What else does Brett Wanner want the racing and deaf communities to know?
“I want people to know that being deaf is not a disability. I am successful. I want to be a
role model, not only for young deaf children but also for aspiring race car drivers. Growing up, I saw that my dad could race, so I knew I could too. I want people to realize that nothing should ever stop them from trying to achieve all their goals in life.